My Christian Iraqi friends encouraged me to visit their country and observe the Spirit of God at work. In 1998, after a grueling 12-hours, 700-mile bus trip across the desert, I arrived in Baghdad. In spite of government "minders," I was able to meet and speak with many Christians. In addition to the historic faith communities of Chaldean and Assyrian Catholics, and Greek Orthodox, I was amazed to find a large Evangelical family and a substantial group of Pentecostals.
Doctors base their prescriptions for care on their diagnoses of the problem, which they can observe. Traditionally Muslims have not diagnosed the problem of human nature as being as critical as have Christians Consequently, Muslims have not seen the need for a radical solution.
John Esposito, the most influential non-Muslim scholar on American Islam, at times, sounds prophetic. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (1992) suggest Islam is a threat to the West--particularly America. A decade later, in Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (2002), he says a war conducted militarily, rather than diplomatically, will lead to an increase in anti-Americanism, global instability, and bloodshed. American foreign policy, he says, is what is behind the anger and agenda of militant Muslims.
Christians and Muslims have serious theological differences. However, these deep disparities often obscure the common ground we share. Mutual understanding is further hindered by the fact that Islam and Christianity have many words in common, but often with very different meanings. Consequently, it is imperative for Christians to understand crucial differences in order to build on mutual values and beliefs. This understanding will help the believer establish and maintain Christ-like relationships with his Muslim neighbors and communicate the gospel of Jesus effectively.
Although a Muslim embraces a belief system in which he expresses faith regarding the spiritual realm, his religious works and rituals are seen as the critical pillars which uphold his religious system and provide it with strength, meaning, and preservation. Being a good Muslim is determined more by what is done, than what is simply believed. One's inner beliefs can remain hidden in the private realm of reasoning and uncertainty, but religious works provide a public demonstration that reveal both one's religious identity and religious devotion.
Ruth and I met our first Muslim family when we were students. For Hamid and Halimah, the University of California at Davis was very different from their home country of Tunisia. We helped Halima with her English and shared some meals together. When we left to attend Turkish language school in Monterrey, they accepted an Arabic New Testament as a parting gift. Looking back at those times, I realize how easily we came together. It was natural for Hamid and Halima to look for friendships within the university community. For a first effort, we did okay. But there were four things we needed to learn.